Category Archives: Baroque era

Bach at the table

Bach food

The holdings of the Bachhaus in Eisenach include a polished goblet that was presented to J.S. Bach around 1735; the word VIVAT inscribed on it was meant as an invitation to enjoy a glass of wine.

Sources including letters, pay slips, stipends, and the 1750 catalog of his estate suggest that Bach’s life was sometimes cheerfully informal.  The table of this choral street-singer, organist, cantor, court musician, and municipal music director—whose salary as an employee was, throughout his life, paid not only in money but also in kind (grain, fish, beer, wine, wood)—was abundantly set for his large family and for the many welcome guests, and his comfortable standard of living was provided for on a corresponding scale.

This according to Zu Tisch bei Johann Sebastian Bach: Einnahmen und “Consumtionen” einer Musikerfamilie by Walter Salmen (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2009).

Below, Bach’s jovial Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet (“Bauernkantate”), BWV #212, which includes the encouraging words “Wave if you’re thirsty!”

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A catalogue of Mass, Office, and Holy Week music printed in Italy, 1516–1770

Frescobaldi print

A catalogue of Mass, Office, and Holy Week music printed in Italy, 1516–1770 focuses on the vast repertoire (comprising approximately 2000 sources) of music for the Office, Holy Week, and the Mass published in Italy from 1516 to the cessation of the printing of such repertoire in the latter part of the 18th century. Even by the end of the first quarter of the Settecento, Italian prints of sacred music were quite rare.

Compiled by Jeffrey G. Kurtzman and Anne Schnoebelen for the JSCM Instrumenta series, this free online resource includes a wide range of indices, from academic references to publishers.

Above, Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Secondo libro, an edition covered in detail in the catalogue (click to enlarge); below, his Ave Maris stella, one of the works preserved in this edition.

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English keyboard music c.1600–1625

English keyboard music

English keyboard music c.1600–1625, edited by Alan Brown (London: Stainer & Bell, 2014), presents works by anonymous and lesser-known composers of the period, drawn from 22 manuscripts that mostly also transmit music by William Byrd and other noted virginalists.

The edition includes the complete keyboard works of Nicholas Carleton, the surviving 20 “Miserere” canons by Thomas Woodson, and the anonymous Pretty ways for young beginners to look on, along with preludes, plainsong settings, voluntaries, dances, and character pieces.

Below, Carleton’s A verse for two to play.

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Bach or the Devil

Devil_Plays_His_Organ

During his life, Bach was primarily known as a dazzling organist with virtuoso improvising abilities. Not surprisingly, his prowess gave rise to a number of urban legends.

One such legend had him traveling incognito, dressed as a village schoolmaster, going from church to church to try out the organs—prompting one local organist to cry out, “I don’t know who’s playing, but it’s either Bach or the Devil!”

This according to “Tod und Teufel” by Frieder Reininghaus, an essay included in Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007, pp. 91–93).

Today is Bach’s 330th birthday! Below, the tocatta and fugue in D minor, BWV 565, which always seems to surface around Halloween.

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Les Plaisirs de l’Île Enchantée

Festin du Roi et des Reines 1

In 1664 Louis XIV gave his first great fête at Versailles, a small hunting box built by his father and which the Roi Soleil was transforming into the astonishing château that would materially represent the political, economic, and artistic supremacy of France. Officially honoring Queen Marie-Thérèse and Queen Mother Anne d’Autriche, the entertainments were in fact dedicated to Louise de La Vallière, the king’s first maîtresse en titre.

Foremost among those who took part in the spectacle was the young warrior king himself, clad in jewel-encrusted gold and silver armor as the chevalier Roger, who, at the bidding of the sorceress Alcine, arrives with his retinue to entertain the queens over the course of several days in Les Plaisirs de l’Île Enchantée.

In 1668 Le Grand Divertissement Royal de Versailles, the most extravagant of the king’s fêtes, celebrated the glory of Louis XIV after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The éclat of the brilliant and youthful court, entertained with fireworks, tournaments, dance, music, and theater, was heightened by collaborations between two of the greatest names in the dramatic arts: Lully and Molière.

Les plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (La Princesse d’Élide); George Dandin ou Le mari confondu (Le grand divertissemant royal de Versailles) (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2004) is a new edition of the keyboard score for the comédies-ballets La princesse d’Élide (1664) and George Dandin (1668); it is part of Olms’s Œuvres complètes of Lully.

Above, the official commemorative engraving of Festin du roi et des reines from 1664; below, excerpts from Lully’s score for La princesse d’Élide.

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Händel’s clock music

Charles Clay musical clock

On 8 May 1736 London’s Weekly advertiser reported on an exhibition of a musical clock to the Queen, giving “uncommon satisfaction to all the Royal Family present”. Although two descriptions survive, the machine itself is lost.

However, the discovery among Händel’s MSS of two sets of tunes for musical clock suggest that the composer was, at the very least, intrigued by the instrument’s capabilities—it is also possible that this machine, or one like it, played these very works. Clearly Händel was not averse to mechanical reproduction of his works, and he may indeed have heard it happen!

This according to “Handel’s clock music” by William Barclay Squire (The musical quarterly V/4 [October 1919]) pp. 538–552.

Today is Händel’s 330th birthday! Above, a musical clock by Charles Clay, the inventor of the machine reported on in 1736; below, Händel’s works performed on a toy piano.

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The Deák–Szentes manuscript

A Deák-Szentes kézirat

The Deák–Szentes manuscript includes the most important melodies of the second part of the hymn text collection Cantionale catholicum, compiled by the Franciscan János Kájoni (Ioan Căianu) in 1676, and revised by Balás Ágoston for a new edition in 1719.

These tunes preserve the Székely hymn tradition of Csík, Transylvania, in the customary notation of the 18th century. Along with the songs from Kájoni’s Cantionale, the manuscript contains Masses, Kyries, Baroque hymns, and traditional hymn texts.

Although today the manuscript is incomplete, it has been reconstructed with the help of earlier copies for a new edition: A Deák-Szentes kézirat/The Deák–Szentes manuscript, edited by Réka Kővári (Budapest: Magyarok Nagyasszonya Ferences Rendtartomány, 2013).

Below, a selection from the Cantionale catholicum.

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Schweitzer and Bach

albert_schweitzer_orgel

Albert Schweitzer’s transcendentalism goes beyond talent and imagination—it is the literal embodiment of truth. When listening to his performances of Bach’s organ works one feels that in every important detail one is listening to Bach himself.

Schweitzer had studied with Charles-Marie Widor, the leading authority of his day, and he was familiar with German organs from Bach’s era; but his connection to the music was far deeper than that of an apt pupil.

Part of the reason for this is Schweitzer’s own resonance with the composer’s character, particularly regarding the relationship between spirituality and service. Rather than interpreting Bach’s works, Schweitzer revealed them.

This according to “The transcendentalism of Albert Schweitzer” by Archibald Thompson Davison, an essay included in The Albert Schweitzer jubilee book (Cambridge: Sci-art, 1945, pp. 199–211).

Today is Schweitzer’s 140th birthday! Below, performing Bach’s fantasia and fugue in g minor, BWV 542.

BONUS: Practicing at home, with kibitzing from a friend.

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Sämtliche Orgelwerke/Complete Organ Works

Sämtliche Orgelwerke

In 2013 Breitkopf & Härtel launched the Bach series Sämtliche Orgelwerke/Complete Organ Works with Präludien und fugen I/Preludes and fugues I, edited by David Schulenberg.

In this new edition Schulenberg presents a new evaluation of the extant sources, based as faithfully as possible on the manuscripts that can be traced back to Bach or to his circle, generally choosing one source as his principal one. Divergences from other sources are documented in the commentary.

Sometimes this new edition emends long-cherished readings of ornaments, voice leading, and notation. Also printed in Volume 1 is an early version of the C major Prelude BWV 545 that includes a trio movement, making a three-movement version of this work.

The CD-ROM enclosed in Volumes 1 and 2 contains dubious works and secondary versions for comparison with the principal versions; these CD-ROMs are entirely in both German and English.

Below, Alexander Kellarev performs the BWV 545 prelude and fugue.

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Rosalyn Tureck and Bach

tureck

When Rosalyn Tureck was first studying piano, Bach’s keyboard music was widely considered to be primarily didactic—good for training in pianistic skills, but too dry for the concert hall. Tureck, however, was fascinated with this repertoire, and started making a point of memorizing a prelude and fugue pair every week.

At the age of 16 she moved to New York City to study at Julliard, and immediately declared her interest in specializing in Bach. Her teachers there were encouraging, but others were not: at the Naumberg Competition, for example, she made it to the finals but the jury declined to give her the award because they were convinced that nobody could make a career out of playing Bach.

Tureck persevered, keeping her repertoire centered on Bach while continuing to pursue her interest in new music. In the 1950s she began to focus more exclusively on Bach, and in 1957 she moved to London, having found that European audiences were more eager for Bach programs than U.S. ones.

This according to “Rosalyn Tureck, pianist specializing in Bach, dies at 88” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times CLII/52,549 [19 July 2003] p. A:11).

Today is Tureck’s 100th birthday! Below, the prelude and fugue in A minor, BWV 895, in 1962.

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